Mammoth tusks and cocktail sticks
By Pete Brown, Move Project Assistant
As part of the Museum of Natural History Move Project Team I have helped move and repackage tens of thousands of specimens since 2017, removing boxes filled at any time over the last 150 years from their old storage location in a deconsecrated church building near Oxford.
At our new facility we have been documenting and repacking the contents in new, clean containers and placing them in environmentally stable, safe warehouses specially adapted for museum storage.
Some objects are trickier to store than others. Things that are long, heavy, curvy and fragile are tricky. Mammoth tusks are long, heavy, curvy, and fragile. This means:
- They’re not going to fit in a normal box.
- They’re going to be difficult to move around.
- That beautiful curve will mean that all the weight of the tusk may be bearing down on just two small contact points where the tusk meets the storage surface.
- Because those points are fragile, they’re likely to get damaged.
The tusk in this article is a prime example. The area nearest the camera in the photo above provided just a tiny point of contact with the floor and was very loose, almost to the point of detaching. It needed to be repaired, and stored in such a way that it wouldn’t get damaged again.
I filled some of the missing areas around the fragile area with an easily removable fine acrylic putty to prevent further movement and loss of the original material. A cotton tape sling helped to suspend the fragment in place during the work.
Thick plastazote provided a sturdy, slightly yielding bed for the tusk to lie on in storage, but to prevent the tusk from getting damaged again more needed be done to reduce the pressure on the points of contact.
I cut depressions into the plastazote where the tusk naturally lay to increase the total surface area supporting the weight of the tusk, and fixed plastazote wedges and supports in place with cocktail sticks to again increase the contact area and prevent movement. Cotton fabric ties, fed through slits in the plastazote, also helped to guard against unwanted movement.
The repaired end of the tusk is now only supporting a fraction of the weight it used to, and once the tusk and the plastazote bed are placed into their new custom-made crate it will be ready for long-term, safe, damage-free storage!
To keep up with all the move project action, follow the museum hashtag #storiesfromthestore on Twitter @morethanadodo.